Though we started the Foundation only six years ago, this is already our fifth Fellowship class! I get bored when I’m not doing new things, so it was inevitable that we would launch this summer a few new initiatives within our Fellowship Program. Some firsts for us this summer: an equity fund that provided a work stipend could focus on their projects and not have to take a another summer job, a new speaker series called Breaking Barriers with dynamic professionals sharing about how they overcame obstacles in their careers, our very first TV commercial, launching into a new market — Nevada — and, perhaps the most fun, creating our first Fashion Show.

We had partnered with upscale handbag brand, Hammitt, two years ago for a Lunar New Year shopping event. It was a super fun event, mainly because Hammitt knows how to throw a party, and our DKF followers know a good shopping party when they see one. This year, with three project teams focused on fashion and upcycling, we knew that it would be a perfect time to create something new with Hammitt. We had three Fellowship Projects focused on upcycling, each team focused on upcycling in their own unique way, creating camps that partnered with diverse communities such as the Girls Scouts, Girls Inc., the Mix in Santa Ana, or the LGBTQ community. Arie and I made a call to Hammit, and together with Nikki from the Hammit team, we started brainstorming fun ways to inspire our teen designers. Hammitt invited our six teens to their Hermosa Beach headquarters to choose recycled fabrics, leathers, and handbags — raw materials for their own stylish creations. Each time we showed up there or at Hammit’s South Coast Plaza store, the Hammitt team made our teens feel like rock stars, and it was easy to imagine we were starring in our very own episode of Project Runway, taking a field trip to choose fabrics from Mood. Our six teens, Ri, Gina, Ayden, George, Rylen, and Ayah, spent July and August dreaming up their designs and creating their handbags.

Soon enough, the The Fashion Show and shopping extravaganza on August 19th was upon us. When the evening came, each team brought in their best handbags, as well as originally-designed outfits and jean jackets. We had invited our best supporters, and dozens of these friends came to shop! Hammit did not disappoint, and celebrated our teens in high fashion. And as project mentor Gary Smith and DKF intern Raj Parekh emcee’d the fashion show, the teams sent their models out on the runway.

Team members from Opia Upcycling, share how they see the Fellowship Program and this Fashion Show event impacted teens:

Ri Gomez, co-founder of Project Opia Upcycling: The fashion show experience has definitely opened new doors for me and revealed how, when teens are allowed to be creative and make change, they can make real impact.

Susan Heystee, Mentor to Project Opia Upcycling: I’ve had the distinct privilege to work with Fellows that took their dreams and ideas and, coupled with the DKF business and leadership training and seed funding, went on to successfully found and launch social entrepreneurship programs that resulted in significant positive community impact. For me, connecting with young people that create their brand by giving back, caring, leading, learning and collaborating is so inspiring.  

Patricia Vining, Ri’s counselor from Samueli Academy: I have worked with these students for the past three years and I am a witness to the incredible life-changing effects the Dragon Kim Fellowship program has had on them. They have grown into self-assured, proactive agents of kindness and change. They are leaders in all they do. The Fellowship opened so many doors for them and has filled them with confidence in their own possibility. They now know that the world has many people in it who are willing to share their gifts to lift up others and I know they will pay this forward. 

I personally also loved many things about this Youth-in-Fashion event.

I loved that Hammitt helped us create a platform for these six teens to experiment with design and community service, and that our belief in them gave them the self-confidence to try some new things knowing there was a community of adults cheering them on. I loved that these students inspired us all to upcycle clothes and accessories so that we do our part to help reduce the harmful impact we have on our environment. And I loved how the fashion show brought our Dragon Family together — friends, donors, community leaders, Mentors, Fellows. It was a great example of what we try to teach the Dragon Fellows: that by coming together, our individual small actions together can change the world.